1/26/10 Edition
 Aisle Seat Action Edition
Plus: ICE CASTLES Remake Lands on DVD

The early ‘90s were a good time for action movies, and one of the best of the era, the highly satisfying Sylvester Stallone thriller CLIFFHANGER (***, 113 mins., 1993, R) has at last made its way to Blu-Ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

Easily one of director Renny Harlin’s most entertaining films, “Cliffhanger” is a classy, formulaic action film with terrific visuals and a strong cast. In the script by Michael France and Stallone, Sly essays Gabe Walker, a Rocky Mountain Rescue guide blamed for a tragic accident that occurs in the film’s opening set-piece -- a gut-wrenching sequence that’s masterfully executed by Harlin. Distraught from the fallout, Gabe is later called back into duty to answer a distress call that’s actually a trap sprung by master-villain John Lithgow (absolutely delectable in a hoot of a role) to retrieve a fortune in stolen cash that’s fallen into the snowy mountains above after a botched plane-to-plane robbery attempt.

Michael Rooker and Janine Turner provide able support in this rousing action-adventure, with Italy’s Dolomites subbing for the Rocky Mountains in most sequences. Trevor Jones’ terrific score is one of his finest, the action sequences stirring, and Alex Thomson’s cinematography just sensational -- elements that combine to make “Cliffhanger” a satisfying slice of early ‘90s escapist entertainment.

Thomson’s visuals are, needless to say, ideally suited to Blu-Ray, where Sony has provided a mostly satisfying AVC-encoded 1080p transfer with DTS Master Audio sound. The picture transfer sometimes lacks detail but appears well composed overall, while the nicely textured DTS audio is even more pleasing, offering a robust array of sound effects and Jones’ score. Extras are primarily culled from “Cliffhanger”’s ancient laserdisc release (deleted scenes, Making Of content, commentary), complete with Harlin’s original on-camera introductions. The marvelous original theatrical trailer is also on-hand.

Along with “Cliffhanger” Sony has issued another movie from the summer of ‘93 on Blu: LAST ACTION HERO (**, 131 mins., 1993, PG-13), a film that opened a week after “Jurassic Park” with all kinds of fanfare -- reuniting star Arnold Schwarzenegger with his “Predator” director John McTiernan, and working from a script co-authored by “Lethal Weapon”’s Shane Black -- but bombed with critics and met with disappointing results at the box-office.

It’s not a complete washout, though, since this cross between typical ‘80s/’90s genre fare and “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” -- finding young movie fan Austin O’Brien being swept up in his cinematic idol Jack Slater’s latest adventure – boasts a big cast, well-composed widescreen imagery and some intermittently amusing sequences. The problem is that it’s just not particularly entertaining -- the movie’s constant “skewering” of action movie cliches basically consists of the movie pointing them out, a few cameos being thrown in, and that’s basically it. Only in the movie’s concluding frames, when Arnold’s Jack Slater crosses into the “real” world, does the picture dramatically take hold, but it’s too late by then for the picture to make much of an impact.

Coming across as the work of too many cooks in the kitchen (William Goldman reportedly was paid a million to polish up the script), “Last Action Hero” nevertheless has a small cult following, and those fans will appreciate Sony’s Blu-Ray disc. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is excellent, as is the DTS Master Audio sound, showcasing a fine Michael Kamen score. Extras, though, are nowhere to be found, so aficionados of the movie will have to be content with this movie-only HD release.

New on Blu-Ray

THE HURT LOCKER Blu-Ray (***, 130 mins., 2009, R; Summit). WHAT IT IS: Suspenseful thriller from director Kathryn Bigelow follows an American bomb squad in Iraq circa 2004 -- its members trying to diffuse a number of tense situations in a harsh, hostile environment with only themselves to rely upon. Bigelow’s movie is almost completely no-frills, with the picture basically comprised of a number of individual, self-contained set-pieces. Subsequently there’s not a lot of character introspection here, no real back stories about the men, the how and the why of their commitment nor any real editorializing on their plight -- it’s a raw, “in the moment” movie that benefits enormously from the documentary-styled visuals of Bigelow and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd (“United 93"), as well as taut performances from Jeremy Reiner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty. I’m not convinced how authentic the film is on a number of levels, but it’s certainly a stylish and compelling cinematic work just the same. TECH SPECS: Shot primarily on 16mm stock, “The Hurt Locker” intentionally employs a grainy, gritty visual look. As such Summit’s Blu-Ray presentation is as solid as one could hope, while the DTS Master Audio sound is brilliant, offering some of the most potent explosions you’ll ever hear at home. Extras are slim, comprised of just a commentary with Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, plus a featurette and image gallery. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Only in its final minutes does “The Hurt Locker” really articulate any psychological insight into its characters, and it almost seemed against the grain of the rest of the film that it did so. Despite that aspect, its lack of realistic detail, and the fact that its few name actors show up in cameos primarily to get killed (it likely would’ve been more effective if the film had no named stars at all), “The Hurt Locker” is still worth seeing. Bigelow has proven to be a superb visual stylist in the past but she’s here matched with material more deserving of her talents -- it’s just unfortunate there wasn’t more substance to it.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL Blu-Ray and DVD (**½, 95 mins., R, 2009; MPI): Ti West wrote and directed this interesting, but only partially successful, evocation of late ‘70s/early ‘80s horror. In “The House of the Devil,” fetching newcomer Jocelin Donahue gives a sympathetic performance as a college student who takes a job as a babysitter -- only to find out along with her friend that the creepy employer (Tom Noonan) she talks to is really a Satanist with a plan that involves her doing a lot more than just taking care of their spooky mansion. This is a difficult movie to review because while West clearly has an understanding of “old school” horror -- going so far as to utilize a Jeff Grace score that has a definite John Carpenter influence at times -- the movie itself is a real slow burn, leading to a disappointing climax and ending you can see coming from miles away. TECH SPECS: MPI has issued “House of the Devil” on both Blu-Ray and DVD. The standard-def platter offers a terrific 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, two commentaries, deleted scenes, interviews, a featurette and the trailer, while the Blu-Ray ups the ante with a superior 1080p presentation that better replicates the details of its theatrical presentation. All the same extras are also on tap, though the sound is only presented in standard 5.1 Dolby Digital. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Despite its weak resolution, Donahue’s performance and the overall attempt at doing something “old-fashioned” are probably enough to satisfy most horror fans here -- especially in lieu of today’s “Saw”-saturated genre market -- making “The House of the Devil” worth a rental.

WHITEOUT Blu-Ray (**, 101 mins., 2009, R; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Oft-delayed Dark Castle adaptation of the acclaimed graphic novel by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber isn’t the worst movie of 2009, but doesn’t have much to recommend it either. Kate Beckinsale plays a US marshal stationed in the Antarctic who uncovers a murder shortly before six months of pitch-black winter arrive. Tom Skerritt and Gabriel Macht co-star in a bland, by-the-numbers film that most significantly blows its opportunity at crafting a stylish visual environment -- the movie’s plastic cinematography, heavy use of green screen and fake snow are a far cry from the genuine wintry vistas that John Carpenter produced in “The Thing” back in 1982. TECH SPECS: Warner’s Blu-Ray edition of “Whiteout” looks and sounds superb. The VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer is excellent, the Dolby TrueHD audio potent, while scant special features include additional scenes, a couple of featurettes, and a digital copy for portable media players. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Crediting the work of four different screenwriters, director Dominic Sena’s “Whiteout” just isn’t very compelling, watering down an award-winning early ‘90s comic book whose film adaptation just wasn’t worth the wait.

THE INVENTION OF LYING Blu-Ray (**, 99 mins., 2009, PG-13; Warner). WHAT IT IS: Ricky Gervais might have struck out hosting the Golden Globes, but truth be told, he hardly fared better with “The Invention of Lying,” an initially-funny box-office underachiever from last fall that grows more pretentious as it moves along. In a film that he wrote and directed with Matthew Robinson, Gervais plays a regular guy in an alternate Earth where people simply can’t tell a lie...until Gervais stumbles upon a way to do it and court would-be love Jennifer Garner. Odd cameos from Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Tina Fey spice things up, and Gervais’ deadpan delivery provides a few laughs, but the actor-director wants the film to be a mix of religious commentary, touching drama-edy, and feel-good romantic comedy, with the ultimate result being uneven at best. TECH SPECS: Warner’s Blu-Ray includes a nice VC-1 encoded transfer, a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, a few additional scenes, outtakes, and brief featurettes. Once again another digital copy disc completes the package. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Trying to be too many things at once, “The Invention of Lying” is an interesting misfire recommended only for Gervais aficionados.

POST-GRAD Blu-Ray (*½, 88 mins., 2009, PG-13; Fox). WHAT IT IS: Tepid romantic comedy wastes a talented cast in its generic tale of a new college grad (Alexis Bledel) who has to move back in with her eccentric family (dad Michael Keaton, Mom Jane Lynch, and Grandma Carol Burnett) after having to backpeddle on her idealistic career plans. Ivan Reitman was one of the producers of this labored affair, which comes across as a TV-movie rendition of “Little Miss Sunshine,” without any of that film’s inspired touches or edge. TECH SPECS: Fox has packaged a terrific Blu-Ray for “Post-Grad,” highlighted by a sunny AVC-encoded transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack. Extras include deleted and alternate scenes, a music video and numerous featurettes, as well as a digital copy. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Seldom funny and completely predictable “Post-Grad” flunks out, despite a strong cast that struggles though painfully thin material.

FAME Extended Edition Blu-Ray (**, 107/123 mins., 2009, PG; Fox). WHAT IT IS: Mediocre remake of Alan Parker’s 1980 film once again chronicles a group of young performers at the New York City High School of Performing Arts -- all of them aspiring for the big-time, but few grounded in the realities that not all of them are going to make it. A solid supporting cast (Charles S. Dutton, Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth, Megan Mullally, and original star Debbie Allen) does what it can to provide an assist to the movie’s teen stars, but screenwriter Allison Burnett and director Kevin Tancharden can’t shake the fact that this version seems more inspired by “American Idol” than Christopher Gore’s original screenplay. TECH SPECS: Fox’s Blu-Ray edition of “Fame” looks and sounds great (AVC encoded 1080p, DTS Master Audio), and includes both the theatrical version and an extended 123-minute cut with ample additional dance footage. Extras include deleted scenes and a few featurettes, plus a digital copy for portable media players. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Check out the original “Fame” instead, which has recently surfaced on Blu-Ray as well.

SURROGATES Blu-Ray and DVD (**, 88 mins., 2009, PG-13; Buena Vista). WHAT IT IS: Disappointing sci-fi misfire, shot on-location in Massachusetts (and co-produced by Bay State native Elizabeth Banks), is set in the not-too-distant future where most humans have decided to live their lives through “surrogates” -- robots that carry out their day-to-day existence, enabling them to be whoever and whatever they want...all from the safety of their own homes. Someone, though, has found a way to kill not just surrogates but their “plugged-in” owners as well, which puts cop Bruce Willis on the case. Director Jonathan Mostow has made some crackling good action movies in his career (“Breakdown,” “U-571,” even “Terminator 3" which was fairly underrated), but “Surrogates” is a mess basically right from the start. The effect of having Willis’ surrogate resemble the actor from several decades prior is interesting, but the story just never works, while there aren’t nearly enough action sequences to keep you interested.
TECH SPECS: Buena Vista’s Blu-Ray and DVD editions of “Surrogates” both include a commentary from Mostow and a music video, while the Blu-Ray offers some exclusive deleted scenes and two featurettes. The AVC encoded 1080p Blu-Ray transfer is colorful and vibrant, while the DVD’s 16:9 (2.35) presentation is perfectly acceptable on its own terms. The audio differences are appreciable as well -- the 5.1 Dolby Digital sound on the DVD lacking the punch of the Blu-Ray’s DTS Master Audio track. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Working from a script by “Terminator” 3 and 4 scribes John Brancato and Michael Ferris, Mostow swings and misses with this goofy, undercooked effort that ought to be forgotten as quickly on video as it was in theaters.

THIS IS IT Blu-Ray (***, 118 mins., 2009, PG; Sony). WHAT IT IS: The “King of Pop” is long gone, but he leaves behind this entertaining behind-the-scenes documentary into what was going to be his latest “comeback” tour. Vibrant musical performances and some actually insightful behind-the-scenes footage make this a must for Jacko aficionados, snappily directed by veteran Kenny Ortega. TECH SPECS: Sony’s Blu-Ray serves up a flawless 1080p transfer with rockin’ DTS Master Audio Sound. Two documentaries, three featurettes, and a pair of BD exclusive segments comprise a top-notch technical package. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: While Jackson’s bizarre behavior and, well, “unusual” private life soured many fans, there’s no denying some of the great music he produced over the years. “This Is It” seeks to remember the better days and leaves one with more of a testament to his professional legacy than his personal issues.

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION Blu-Ray (**½, 97 mins., R, 2009; Sony). WHAT IT IS: Peter Hyams served as the cinematographer on his son John’s newest feature: the latest “Universal Soldier” direct-to-video sequel, which reunites original stars Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme, both basically playing second fiddle to a new super-soldier played by Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski, whose antics bring the retired JCVD out of retirement. It only takes a few minutes for one to realize that this action effort is surprisingly decent: an exciting opening set-piece is followed by a routine but competent story that looks and sounds better than you’d anticipate given the recent history of this franchise. For action fans “Regenration” is worth a look. TECH SPECS: Sony’s Blu-Ray, out next week, offers a superb DTS Master Audio soundtrack as well as a commentary from Lundregn and John Hyams. A behind-the-scenes featurette compliments the 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. AISLE SEAT BOTTOM LINE: Admittedly this is a case of a movie exceeding low expectations, but Hyams’ polished visuals give “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” a definite boost. Better than you might expect, under the circumstances.

New on DVD
ICE CASTLES DVD (**½, 95 mins., 2010, PG; Sony): There are few “movie songs” in cinematic history as instantly recognizable as Marvin Hamlisch’s tender, lovely ballad “Through the Eyes of Love” from the 1978 figure-skating weepie “Ice Castles.” With Melissa Manchester belting out Carole Bayer Sager’s lyrics, Hamlisch provided a gorgeous melodic center at the heart of an undeniably entertaining, if “mushy” (as kids call it), romantic film that remains a favorite of viewers decades later.

That film’s director, Donald Wrye, actually came back to helm this direct-to-video remake of the Lynn-Holly Johnson/Robby Benson original, and the results aren’t half-bad -- even if the picture, predictably, is inferior on every level to its predecessor.

Real-life figure skater Taylor Firth boasts some on-screen appeal as Lexie, a talented young skater who quickly ascends to the top of her sport, out of her small Iowa town and into the big-time. She quickly becomes alienated from boyfriend Rob Mayes and her father (Henry Czerny), but those closest to her return to her side after Firth suffers a near-fatal injury that costs the skater her sight.

Wyre’s movie is clearly tailored to today’s “tween” audience, from its more contemporary musical backing to the reduction in screen time for the movie’s adult characters. Czerny doesn’t get enough screen time to register, and the film, as a result, lacks the character development of the original, which offered Colleen Dewhurst and Tom Skerritt in effective supporting performances.

Even if the 2010 “Ice Castles” feels more superficial and TV-movie like than the original, young viewers, especially those who never saw the first film, will likely be entertained, and Firth has a nice presence that extends beyond her skating sequences. It’s not a perfect 10, but it’s not an out-and-out flop either.

Sony’s DVD of the “Ice Castles” remake hits stores just in time for the Olympics, offering a fine 16:9 (1.85) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Extras include a few brief deleted scenes culled from a workprint and a behind-the-scenes featurette that offers comments from Lynn-Holly Johnson along with Wrye and the new cast.

LIONSGATE MUSIC MAKERS Series DVD (Lionsgate): Lionsgate recently debuted a quartet of music-themed DVDs with bonus CD content. Making their DVD premieres in the series are the Alexander Salkind-produced, Paul Henreid-directed 1964 film “Ballad in Blue,” which offered Ray Charles in his starring debut, as well as “A Man Called Adam,” sporting Sammy Davis Jr. and a superb supporting cast (Cicely Tyson, Ossie Davis, Louis Armstrong, Mel Torme and Peter Lawford among them). “Adam” is presented in a 16:9 (1.66) transfer with mono sound, while “Ballad in Blue” is on-hand in a 1.33 full-screen transfer. Lionsgate’s other “Music Makers” discs include the awkward Kevin Spacey biopic of Bobby Darin, “Beyond the Sea,” and Wim Wenders’ concert film “Buena Vista Social Club,” each with their corresponding DVD supplements. All four discs contain the same bonus CD including cuts from Charles, Darin, Davis and Omara Portundo.

I CAN DO BAD ALL BY MYSELF Blu-Ray and DVD (113 mins., 2009, PG-13; Lionsgate): Tyler Perry’s latest finds a nightclub singer (Taraj P. Henson) charged with taking charge of her late sister’s kids and finding love with a handyman (Adam Rodriguez), all with the help of the irrepressible Madea (Perry). Lionsgate has brought “I Can Do Bad All By Myself” to both DVD and Blu-Ray; both platforms include several behind-the-scenes featurettes, while the DVD offers a fine 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. The Blu-Ray is even more satisfying thanks to its AVC-encoded 1080p transfer and DTS Master Audio soundtrack.

New From Acorn
Our friends at Acorn Media have another line of solid DVDs lined up for release for early 2010.

Paul Sorvino narrates the entertaining, three-hour documentary BRAVA ITALIA (178 mins., 2009), a PBS celebration of modern Italian life and how it melds with the country’s rich historical traditions. As much a travelogue as it is an overview of Italy’s cultural past, “Brava Italia” boasts superb cinematography (rendered perfectly here in 16:9 widescreen) and a lively soundtrack, its three installments focusing on “The Proud Traditions” (from food to local crafts and rituals), “The Beautiful Life” (architecture, cultural history) and “The Eternal Country,” celebrating Italy’s modern achievements as well as its legendary accomplishments. Recommended.       

If you’re like me and have been wondering what exactly THE RED GREEN SHOW actually is, Acorn’s anthology of the comedy series’ “Infantile Years” is worth a look -- if nothing else to see what exactly this Canadian import (which frequently airs in the U.S. on PBS stations) is all about. Containing 72 episodes, this box-set presents the series’ first three seasons in full-screen transfers with an introduction from star-creator Steve Smith, as well as character profiles and bios of stars Smith and Patrick McKenna.

Richard Griffiths returns as semi-retired detective Henry Crabbe in the highly entertaining British series PIE IN THE SKY, which Acorn is releasing in a Series 2 edition featuring its sophomore group of 10 episodes. This time out, Crabbe once again balances occasional police work with his newfound passion for running a restaurant in another delectable mix of comedy, food, mystery and police procedural. Acorn’s DVD edition of “Pie in the Sky” Series 2 includes 4:3 full-screen transfers, a biography of the star and cast filmographies.

Finally, last but not least, Acorn brings the acclaimed British mini-series GBH to DVD. This tale of a politician (Robert Lindsay) who calls a strike and a local school teacher (Michael Palin) who sabotages it boasts a superb Elvis Costello-Richard Harvey score, a terrific cast (Lindsay Duncan, Julie Walters and Anna Friel co-star), a taut script and loads of DVD special features. Commentary from Lindsay, Palin and Peter Ansorge is on-hand for the first episode, plus an interview with writer Alan Bleasdale and cast filmographies. The 4:3 full-screen transfer and stereo soundtrack are both just fine.

New from A&E/History
WWII IN HD Blu-Ray (aprx. 8 hours, 2009; History/A&E): Breathtaking color footage of WWII, found after a two-year search undertaken by the History Channel, is the main draw of this superb new documentary. Narrated by Gary Sinise, “WWII in HD” frames the newly-discovered footage through the recollections of 12 Americans (narrated by a variety of actors), but it’s the visuals that will prove to be the most compelling for history buffs -- culled from a variety of sources this is one of the most enthralling WWII docs I’ve seen in some time, particularly on Blu-Ray where the HD imagery really shines. History’s Blu-Ray presentation is also their finest to date: the DTS Master Audio sound (in both 5.1 and 2.0) and transfer are both superb, while extras include a pair of featurettes profiling the restorative process.

THE UNIVERSE Season 4 DVD and Blu-Ray (9 hrs., 2009; History/A&E): Another season for the popular History Channel series includes all 12 of its fourth-season episodes, once again utilizing a mix of CGI, expert interviews, real science and theory to examine a wide assortment of topics related to the universe around us. As with the prior three editions of “The Universe” on video, the Blu-Ray usurps the DVD with its clear 1080p images, with both platforms include extra segments on meteors and comets.

LOCK N’ LOAD WITH R. LEE ERMEY Season 1 DVD (10 hrs., 2009; History/A&E): Vietnam vet, actor and Hollywood military advisor R. Lee Ermey hosts this interesting examination of battlefield weapons, from machine guns to tanks, pistols and rockets, all using 3D graphics detail and high-speed photography. History’s four-disc DVD set includes widescreen transfers and stereo sound.

JFK: 3 SHOTS THAT CHANGED AMERICA DVD (188 mins., 2009; A&E): Two interesting documentaries on the JFK assassination also receive a DVD release this month from History and A&E. “24 Hours Later” is a feature-length doc based on the book by Steven M. Gillion, profiling the chaotic day following JFK’s shooting, while “3 Shots That Changed America” is a broader, three-hour examination of the shooting using home movies, raw news footage and new interviews. Both come recommended.

COWBOYS AND OUTLAWS DVD (aprx. 5 hours, 2009; A&E): The golden era of the American Cowboy -- both its heroes and outlaws -- are the subject of this History Channel series that incorporates reenactments along with newly reviewed forensic evidence and historian interviews. The two-disc set boasts widescreen transfers and stereo soundtracks.           

New From BBC

ROBIN HOOD Season 3 DVD (571 mins., 2009; BBC): Mixed critical notices have greeted this BBC re-do of the legendary hero, who in Season 3 meets Brother Tuck and a feisty new heroine, Kate, who join the the fight against injustice after the death of Maid Marian (say it isn’t so!). BBC’s five-disc DVD box-set collects “Robin Hood”’s complete third season in crisp 16:9 transfers with 5.1 audio. Extras include a few featurettes, character profiles and video diaries.

DOCTOR WHO: THE COMPLETE SPECIALS DVD (311 mins.; BBC): Five-disc box-set from BBC houses the complete array of modern Doctor Who specials, including “The Next Doctor,” “Planet of the Dead,” “The Waters of Mars,” and the two-part “The End of Time.” Copious special features total over seven hours including deleted scenes, commentaries, Comic-Con extras and more.

MI-5 Volume 7 DVD (469 mins., 2009; BBC): Lucas North (Richard Armitage) is sprung from a Russian prison and joins up with Section D in this seventh volume of episodes from the popular BBC series. BBC’s NTSC edition is presented in 16:9 on four discs with numerous extras including commentary, a behind-the-scenes documentary, the UK trailer, featurettes and other goodies for fans.

EMMA DVD (229 mins., 2009; BBC): Romola Garai’s sparkling performance as Jane Austen’s heroine is the main draw in this pleasant, satisfying new BBC adaptation of the oft-adapted Austen novel. Jonny Lee Miller, Michael Gambon and Tamsin Greig give equally fine performances in this 2009 rendition, which BBC brings to DVD next month in a double-disc package with a terrific 16:9 transfer and several extras including featurettes and an interview with Gambon.

CRANFORD - THE COLLECTION (468 mins., 2007-09; BBC): Judi Dench, Michael Gambon, Eileen Atkins and Imelda Staunton headline a pair of acclaimed BBC/PBS mini-series set in a market town in Northwest England circa 1842. BBC’s box-set includes both “Cranford” and “Return to Cranford” in crisp 16:9 transfers with stereo soundtracks and a pair of Making Of featurettes.

Also New on DVD/Blu-Ray

10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray (***, 97 mins., 1997, PG-13; Buena Vista): As energetic and entertaining as any teen movie released in the late ‘90s, the sometimes raunchy “10 Things I Hate About You” presents a good-natured and often very funny variation on Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew."

Set in Padua High, “10 Thngs” finds the lovely though obnoxious Julia Stiles being courted by Heath Ledger in one of his first lead roles -- he being a social outcast better known for his brawn, not his brains. The catch is that Ledger is being paid to date Stiles by frustrated Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who wants to date Stiles's trendier younger sister (who can't date unless Stiles does), and obnoxious teen model Andrew Keegan, who wants to do the same. Naturally, shenanigans ensue once Ledger finds out that he really likes Stiles, while her sister (Larisa Oleynik) has to choose between the good hearted Gordon-Levitt and the shallow though more popular Keegan.

With a smart script by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, “10 Things” is often hilarious and sports charming performances by its young ensemble cast. I liked the relationship between the two sisters and particularly enjoyed Larry Miller's performance as the girls' single father, while David Krumholtz deserves special mention for his comic support as Gordon-Levitt's pal. Ledger and Stiles are both good, generating solid chemistry, while Oleynik's performance as a more amiable Bianca is also cute and appealing. Credit veteran TV director Gil Junger for infusing in his film a real energy and sense of comic timing.

It is somewhat disappointing, however, that some of the jokes in “10 Things” veer into the tasteless category, spoiling what ought to be an ideal film for kids. Otherwise, this is a superior film for its genre, and one that has weathered the years incredibly well, thanks to its cast.

Buena Vista’s 10th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray of “10 Things” sports a generally satisfying 1080p transfer, which only looks compromised with some occasional video artifacting and a frame that seems too tightly composed (there are a few shots of Ledger’s head being cut off, especially early in the film, indicating that the picture must have been zoomed in somewhat from its actual theatrical ratio). In addition to DTS Master Audio sound there are also deleted scenes, commentary from the filmmakers, casting footage and a retrospective documentary with new interviews with Smith, Lutz, and Junger, along with vintage cast comments.

THE KEEPER DVD (94 mins., 2009, R; Fox): Steven Seagal plays an L.A. street cop who’s double crossed and forced into retirement -- at least until he accepts a gig guarding the daughter of a businessman who’s then kidnapped by mobsters. This Seagal-produced direct-to-video effort has clearly been inspired by the Liam Neeson thriller “Taken,” but, predictably, offers none of that movie’s exciting set-pieces. Fox’s DVD includes a 16:9 (1.78) widescreen transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.    

DEFYING GRAVITY DVD (560 mins., 2009; Fox): Ron Livingston is a veteran astronaut on a six-year tour of the solar system in this strange yet somewhat compelling ABC series, which mixes sci-fi with character drama. It didn’t last -- and indeed, Fox’s box-set includes five episodes that never aired -- but genre fans looking for something a little different could do worse than “Defying Gravity,” which has hit DVD in a multi-disc set from Fox boasting 16:9 transfers and 5.1 soundtracks. Extras include deleted scenes, making of featurettes and more.

FIREBALL DVD (97 mins., 2009, R; Lionsgate)
WUSHU DVD (98 mins., 2009, PG-13; Lionsgate): A pair of Asian action imports hit DVD this month from Lionsgate. “Wushu” is a Sammo Hung vehicle produced by Jackie Chan, arriving on DVD in a 16:9 (2.35) widescreen transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, while the Thai import “Fireball” includes a 16:9 (1.78) transfer with 5.1 Dolby Digital sound. Both discs include featurettes.

THE BOYS ARE BACK DVD (**½, 104 mins., 2009, PG-13; Miramax/Buena Vista): Scott Hicks helmed this little-seen drama starring Clive Owen as an Australian sportswriter raising his six-year-old alone after his wife dies, as well as a son from a previous marriage who’s all kinds of trouble. Owen is terrific but “The Boys are Back” isn’t an especially memorable film, in spite of Hicks treating the predictable material with proper sensitivity. Buena Vista’s DVD includes two featurettes, a 16:9 (2.35) transfer and 5.1 Dolby Digital sound.

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